this space intentionally left blank

August 2, 2006

Filed under: music»recording»production

World Music

One of my managers comes up to me the other day and asks me if--now that the Bank has all this audio technology--I could put together some "jingles" for the upcoming GDLN World Forum. Basically, when each region is introduced for a presentation or acknowledgement, they want a short musical sting to play. I suggested that instead of creating one piece or going with commercial music (the licensing of which can be awkward), that instead I could write one 15-second chunk of music with instruments and harmonies from each region, and then we could just solo the regional instrumentation for each group.

I'm a little nervous about the assignment. Not because I can't do it on deadline--because the idea of being paid for playing music on the software synth isn't exactly painful. I'm more concerned that I'm a random American being asked to put together music that will represent different regions--not even just individual cultures (if there is such a thing), but large areas that might contain many different cultures and ethnic groups.

The potential to be unintentionally offensive is there, and I don't think I'm overthinking it. In other media, musical cues are often used as a shorthand for racial or cultural jokes--introducing a Japanese character with a gong strike, for example, or giving a character from Jamaica a steel drum theme. It's lazy, a bit disrespectful, and it's certainly not something that the World Bank should be using.

So I'm working off a few guidelines, to keep myself from basically producing a parody of an "edgy" sitcom soundtrack. The first is to request samples of appropriate music as templates from regional experts at the Bank. At least then I can point directly at the sample when asked what were you thinking? Second, I'm making it a basic policy to try to avoid stereotypical instrument choices--no sitars for South Asia, and I'd like to avoid using drums for Africa. That may not be possible, since sometimes those instruments are stereotyped for a reason (a lot of African music does play up the role of percussion), but I hope it will keep me from producing something that's either chintzy or reduces an entire section of the globe to just one country. Finally, I'm going to take advantage of the diversity here at the World Bank, and get at least a couple of opinions on the piece before I hand it over.

Any other guidelines that I should remember? Travesties to avoid? Anecdotes of other bad musical choices? The comments are there for a reason.

Update: On the other hand, the reaction from other Bank staff tends to be "you're making this into way too big a deal." I've been in meetings all day, literally. Maybe I'm just overanalyzing.

Future - Present - Past